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LARGE MARINE MAMMAL DATABASE

The Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) represents a significant feeding area for marine mammals in the northwest Atlantic including endangered North Atlantic right, humpback, and fin whales. In an effort to accurately provide for the conservation of species and development of management plans, the temporal and spatial distribution of each marine mammal species occurring in SBNMS needs to be identified and documented. In 2001, NOAA contracted Perot Systems to develop a single data source combining both the Whale Center of New England (WCNE) and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies' (PCCS') whale sightings/densities datasets to support sanctuary management needs.

The database includes visual sighting data for multiple marine mammal species, with fields comprised of effort, species, latitude, longitude, date, and time. For certain species, minimum/maximum ranges of pod size were also included. Basic weather and vessel track data was included in order to provide a basis for evaluating sighting effort and conditions. PCCS provided cetacean sighting data obtained aboard commercial whale watching and research platforms within the boundaries of the SBNMS. WCNE also provided data collected from daily whale watch vessels and research vessel cruises.

The five year contract resulted in a database made up of over 350,000 individual sightings (a rate of approximately 14,600 observations per year from 1979 to present). These data were instrumental SBNMS and NOAA Fisheries planning efforts to shift the Boston Traffic Separation Scheme (shipping lanes into and out of the Port of Boston) to reduce the risk of collisions between whales and vessels.

Baleen Whale Map

Color kriged density plot of all baleen whale sightings in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Credit: Michael Thompson.

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